Sunday, April 16, 2006

Under the Lilacs: The Women
In Abraham Lincoln's Life

I've been thinking about Abraham Lincoln a lot lately, having just finished more books about his life as well as the anniversary of his death just past. All of my life I've been reading about this man. We had several biographies about Lincoln in our family home that I read as a child, and throughout the years I would periodically hear of a new book, or seek out something that had been recommended, to further my education about him. (1) Last year I read a book entitled American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman that gave me greater insight into Booth's motives behind his crime as well as his time spent in flight. Amazingly, a great many of Booth's stopping points along that route are still in existence and can be witnessed today. (2) This year I read Manhunt: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson, and one fact I picked up from that book was how long the group of men stood in the middle of the street outside of Ford's Theatre, bearing a dying Lincoln, trying to decide where to take him. (3) It was while I was reading Manhunt that I found two more books of interest in the bibliography: Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. which is the largest collection of photographs in book form about Lincoln's life, (4) and Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Steers, Jr., a book highly recommended by the author of Manhunt.

Sarah Lincoln
Putting down the last book, I thought back on this thread of women who wove through Lincoln's life and their influence on him. Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died when he was nine years old. His sister was eleven. The very next year, his father remarried a widowed woman, Sarah Bush Johnston, and she joined the Lincoln family with her three children from her previous marriage. When Sarah arrived at the cabin, the Lincoln children took to her immediately, so history says, and I wonder just how emotionally starved those children were, prior to her arrival. (5) Even though she couldn't sign her own name, she brought three books with her into the marriage: Webster's Speller, Robinson Crusoe and The Arabian Nights. Abe already owned Pilgrim's Progress and Aesop's Fables. It is well known that Lincoln would walk many miles to obtain a book, borrowing from every neighbor within walking distance. I marvel than in an agrarian age in our country, when children were born to work alongside their parents on the land, that this uneducated woman had the foresight to convince Abraham's father that his son's reading time not be disturbed, nor that he be forced wholly into physical labor. She is quoted as saying of the little boy, "His mind and mine, what little I had, seemed to run together, moving in the same channel." When Abraham's cousin, Dennis Hanks, rode out to the cabin to tell Sarah the dreadful news of Lincoln's death, he is reported to have told her, "Abe's dead," to which she replied, "Yes, I know, Denny. I knowed they'd kill him. I ben waiting for it." (6)

Ann Rutledge's Grammar Book

Lincoln's first love, Ann Rutledge, was short lived, as she died of typhoid fever at age 22. There was a deathbed farewell, and her passing left Abraham feeing suicidal. There isn't much known of her life, but what memories existed were positive. A quote from Ann's sister Nancy states, "I can never forget how sad and broken-hearted Lincoln looked when he came out of the room from the last interview with Annie. No one knows what was said at that meeting, for they were alone together." There are no drawings or photographs of Ann, but the cover of the grammar text used by both Lincoln and Ann survives, with her signature at the top. The book is in the Library of Congress.

The Young Groom, 1848

When Lincoln and Mary Todd met and forged a relationship, it was not easy-going, nor would it be throughout their lifetime. My own feeling is that is was a love match, but one of those where one of the pairing is much revered and loved, while the other is a cipher and people in their circle wonder how such a union exists because of the disparities in character. (7)

The Young Mrs. Lincoln, 1848

One of those mysteries where we wonder what each fulfills in the other to create such a match. Mary was jealous of the mourned Ann, but then she was jealous of many women who crossed Lincoln's path.

The Lincoln's Marriage Certificate

One who would have escaped her wrath was little Grace Bedell who wrote Lincoln when she was eleven years old. Grace is remembered, of course, for planting the idea of Lincoln's growing a beard. Here is her letter to Lincoln:

"Hon A B Lincoln... Dear Sir My father has just got home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it very pretty. I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter to Grace Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye. Grace Bedell

We also have Lincoln's response to Miss Bedell:

Miss Grace Bedell My dear little Miss Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received--I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters--I have three sons--one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age--They, with their mother, constitute my whole family--As to whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well wisher A. Lincoln

Here is a picture of Grace at fourteen, three years after she wrote Lincoln: (8)

Grace Bedell, Age Fourteen

Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone were not the Lincoln's first choice to accompany them to Ford's Theatre that night. In fact, they were rather far down on the list, as many declined before them. (9) The first request had gone out to General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia. (10) There has been much speculation over time what would have occurred if Grant had been present with Lincoln that night. Some assert that Grant would have been attended to by a military guard that would not have allowed Booth to enter the box. This is hardly accurate, as Grant had been with Lincoln on other occasions to the theatre where there was no guard present. The excuse the Grant's made to the Lincoln's was that after putting in a day of work, Grant and his wife wished to catch a train so they might visit their children in New Jersey. Some historians find it a pat excuse, harking back to an incident that occurred in late March between Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Lincoln.

Julia Grant

On March 23rd, Lincoln visited Grant at his military base at City Point, Virginia. His wife accompanied him, and they travelled on a steamer called the River Queen, aptly named, I think, given the imperious nature of Mary Lincoln. Upon arriving at the base, Mary and Julia were to travel by horse drawn ambulance provided by the Army while the men rode ahead on horseback. When the women arrived, they saw the wife of General Charles Griffin riding alongside the President. Mrs. Lincoln became extremely upset and was visibly shaken, and it is reported that she felt Mrs. Griffin's presence with the President a serious breach of protocol. She was so angry, she tried climbing out of the ambulance and had to be restrained for fear she would jump into the deep mud surrounding the vehicle.

The next day, another incident occurred when the attractive wife of General Ord was riding next to Lincoln, and riding with the men while they reviewed the troops. Mary Lincoln was reported to have arrive at the scene that day and say, "What does that woman mean by riding by the side of the President?" When Julia Grant tried to calm her, she turned on Julia and began accusing her and her husband of coveting the White House and wanting to replace the Lincolns. "I suppose you think you will get in the White House yourself?," she is quoted as saying. Julia, on the other hand, was making excuses for Mrs. Lincoln to the others saying that she must be fatigued from all of the travel and the unpleasant, jolting ride that they had experienced. Mrs. Lincoln wasn't through with Julia, however. On seeing the two women arrive, Mrs. Ord rode over to the ambulance to join them. Mary flew into a rage, accusing Mrs. Ord of trying to surplant her and saying that the troops would think she was the President's wife. From what history reports, Mrs. Lincoln let fly and called Mrs. Ord "vile names in the presence of a crowd of officers." There was another incident reported where Mrs. Grant sat down on a piling near a river pier in weariness, and Mrs. Lincoln lashed out at her and her inappropriate behavior of daring to sit in the presence of the President's wife. And so, the Grant's declined to visit Ford Theatre that night. (11)

Laura Keene

I often wonder at the choice the Lincoln's made, as a political family, to attend a comedic play on the religious observance of Good Friday. Laura Keene was the star, that night, and the play was An American Cousin. I never knew this, until recently, but immediately following Lincoln's being shot, Laura forced her way into the box where he lay and asked permission to hold his bleeding head so she might "calm him." Later, she acted her greatest performance perhaps, when she started touring around on display in her bloodied silk dress, reenacting that night. This is such an unsavory piece of history: the ego forcing it's way into that box, the playing out of the dramatic moment in her little tableau of administering angel, and then the rather sanguinary display she made of herself following his death, taking it to the road. (12) A piece of that gown still exists:

After Lincoln's death, he was prepared for display, and display...and display. Following his funeral in Washington, he was taken by train up the Eastern seaboard to the major cities, then out West to Springfield, Illinois, and each city created massive tributes of mourning to their lost President. There was also an increasing sense of competitiveness in who would have the largest parade, the longest viewing lines, the biggest catafalque. Along on the journey was Lincoln's decease son, Willie, who was removed from his resting place at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, so that he might be buried with his father and his previous deceased brother in Illinois.

Lincoln Funeral Procession, Chicago

Often Lincoln's hearses were flanked by young girls in white as they made their way down the city streets. I have found a rather poor quality photograph of the young women of Chicago fulfilling this role.

I read something this week that will stick with me a long time, I think. The funerals were occurring throughout late April into early May, and at that time of year, the lilac bushes were in bloom, as they are now. People were snapping off branches to throw under the hearse wheels as they passed through town. According to historical interviewing, there were many, when asked to remember something about the time when Lincoln had died were reported as saying, "I never smell lilacs without thinking of that day." (13) (14)



Barefootnote (15)

(1) We even had a historical fiction written about Mary Todd Lincoln, portraying her in a sensitive light, so that I grew up having mixed feelings about her relationship with her husband, not necessarily seeing her (as my brother put it) "a total nut job."

(2) I highly recommend American Brutus of all of the books I've read in the past two years, as it gives a great deal more insight into the roaming and scheming of Booth in the years prior to the assassination. Loyalist or egotist. Much to consider.

(3) They stood quite a while out in that mud lumped street holding Lincoln while they debated where to take him. The tavern next door? Hardly the place for a President to die, and on Good Friday, to boot.

(4) The collection of photographs that are used in this book were gathered over the years by the authors' father and grandfather, Frederick Hill Merserve, and what a lifetime's labor of love it must have been to amass such images. The book is well worth seeking as you will find things you've probably never seen before including an incredible accounting of all of the funerals held in the cities along the travel route from Washington to Springfield, Illinois. They don't hold back, either, on reporting the craziness and competition that was going on to best each other in their displays.

(5) Sarah Lincoln had to have been a woman of phenomenal character and strength to join her new husband in the wilderness, and the untended children awaiting her. Almost immediately, she had him making improvements to benefit his family: adding a wood floor to the cabin, fixing a leaking roof that dumped snow over the children's beds, creating vegetable gardens. Up until the time he left for Washington, Lincoln would ride out on horseback some 70 miles to visit with Sarah on a regular basis. I found it a very interesting tidbit that Mary Lincoln never accompanied him to get to know this woman who was such a huge supporter in the development of her husband.

(6) Dennis Hanks, Lincoln's cousin, knew him from birth. Dennis was ten when Lincoln was born, and his memory of the birth is, "I tuk and run the hull two miles to see my new cousin. Nancy was lying thar in a pole bed, luking purdy happy. You bet I was tickled to death. Babies wasn't as plentiful as blackberries in the woods o' Kentucky."

(7) For every argument you can find against Mary Lincoln, you can equally find another one to counter it. She came from an educated family, politically involved, and she may well have been an impetus in his moving forward in politics. She could also be a political liability with her rich tastes, queenly manner and unleashed temper. Their last day together, after he had finished his work, the Lincoln's went for a carriage ride out into the countryside, and apparently it was a happy memory for Mary as they laughed and speculated about their future together. Historians haven't been kind to her. My feeling is, who ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors between a husband and a wife?

(8) Grace married at seventeen and moved to Delphos, Kansas where she raised children, lived a full life and died at age 88. Her original letter to Lincoln is part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library in Michigan. Lincoln's response to her is owned by a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous.

(9) There is further sadness tied to Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone. They ultimately did marry, moved to Germany and raised a family. Years later, Henry murdered Clara and was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane where he died.

(10) Julia was a woman of gentle demeanor and in dealing with Mrs. Lincoln, a possessor of diplomatic skills. She also had crossed eyes which, it is said, Grant dissuaded her from correcting as he "adored her just as she is."

(11) They may well have had a legitimate desire to see their children that weekend. There may have been another discussion going on at home when the news of Lincoln's request arrived. It's an amusing speculation to picture them rifling through Grant's desk, trying to find that train schedule they just know he has somewhere.

(12) I accept this as human nature. Ford's Theatre was left in shreds that night. People were ripping off and running away with anything they could get their hands on. The red paper was pulled from the walls, furniture was smashed, items of Lincoln's clothing stolen, all to become future reliquaries on some Victorian mantle. It is moments like this, and they still occur, when I realize we have not come very far in the course of civilization.

(13) Lilacs grow in Washington, but only with a lot of fussing over them. We have a lot of humidity, and they tend to suffer from mildew and blight issues that they don't encounter in the New England states, where they flourish. I've tried many times to keep lilac bushes going, without much success. When I am in New England in the spring, I treasure the many lilacs that I see. They do have the most wonderful scent and delicate blossoms.

(14) I had blog readers JCD and Cuff both bring up the Walt Whitman poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd," from Leaves of Grass. It is a lengthy poem that begins:

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky of night,
I mourn'd--and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear'd! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash'd palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle.....and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

Whitman goes on for many more lines about his love of this country, and Lincoln (not named) and the Civil War and war's comrades compared to lilacs and he closes with these lines:

Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wonderous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and it's blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders in my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep
For the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands--and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim."

Thank you again JCD and Cuff for bringing this up in your comments. The poem can be found on this Leaves of Grass website. It is Poem 192: Whitman, Walt. 1900. Leaves of Grass

(15) A barefoot Lincoln is not that farfetched. He had a terrible time being fitted for boots, with his narrow foot and size 14 (by today's standards) shoes. Often, he was seen in the White House, much to his wife's dismay, wearing old slippers or, on occasion, barefoot. The Lincoln's spoke about where they might like to live after he left office. She most definitely wanted to live in Chicago, near the water. He thought about returning to Springfield, but it is said what he really wanted to do was to move to California. I like that thought: Lincoln having lived across the land, ending his days with his feet in the sand and surf, staring out at the ocean.
















52 Comments:

Blogger Siryn said...

What a wonderful post. I never knew this much about President Lincoln. It's amazing how fascinating people can be when you get past the veneer of the public persona.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Siryn: Thanks. I tried to bring out things most people weren't aware of, not that his life hasn't been documented out the wazzoo and then some.

1:02 AM  
Anonymous drew said...

Ms. Cube pointed out the fact that I might not read this post because a) it's long, and b) I'm illiterate. ::straightening in my chair:: SO! I'll just comment on the photos!

The photo of Lincoln as a young groom makes me think that it is entirely possible that he may have been in the direct bloodline of both John Cleese (Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, etc., ad nauseum) and Alan Alda (M.A.S.H., West Wing, etc., ad nauseum). The resemblance is uncanny!

And, to contribute my testosterone shortcomings, let me say that if I were sitting in the Ford's Theater looking at the lovely Ms. Laura Keene performing, I would be struck by not only her resemblance to the amazing Minnie Driver, but ::glancing around nervously:: did you SEE THE SIZE OF THOSE CANS?!? They could have wheeled in a cannon behind my head and I wouldn't have noticed.

Okay -- enough joking. History has certainly been put through the Disney wringer. It's hard to believe what American History would have been like without Michael Eisner, and his merry gang of rewriters -- including the recent "reclassification of sensitive documents" this administration has been revealed to be doing.

Thank you, Washington Cube! Thank you for asking the difficult questions, exploring the many sources and claims of "truth" without full trust or faith -- and ending it all with a barefoot, Californian Lincoln talking to his agent on his cell phone, no doubt playing "Age of Empires" on his Sony VAIO.

"Let's hug it out!"

1:17 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Drewcifer: I did NOT call you illiterate. I just know you don't like reading lengthy pieces of blather. Laura Keene's cans? I couldn't stop laughing.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous jcd said...

Thank you for the post. I learned quite a lot from it. Your footnote about lilacs helped explain why it was a natural choice for Walt Whitman to call his poem in memorium of Lincoln "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."

6:06 AM  
Blogger Moxie said...

A+ Cube. Great post. I've always had a penchant for Presidential history and Abe is one of my favs as well. And, nice timing with today celebrating Emancipation Day. Over by MPD and Court, at 400 Indiana Ave NW, there is a statue of Lincoln. I heard that is where he did sign the document, is that true? (I've been convinced you are a DC historian for quite some time now and will know this)

6:58 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

This was fascinating! My coffee kicked in about halfway through and I actually learned those bits. Really interesting stuff about Mary Todd, too. I agree that history has not been kind.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

JCD: I wasn't connecting a lot of things to lilacs until I read that odd little tidbit. It's funny how you can read history and then stumble on one strange, quirky comment and find it is that thing that really lodges in your brain and sticks with you.

Moxie: The oldest Lincoln memorial in the nation, dedicated in 1868 exactly three years after his death, is a statue in front of Washington's Old City Hall (now a court building) on D Street, between 4th and 5th Streets, N.W. It was paid for by public contributions, with the largest share coming from John Ford, the owner of Ford's Theater, the site of the assassination.In Lincoln Park, located in a residential part of Capitol Hill (11th Street and East Capitol Street, S.E.), is the Emancipation Statue, dedicated in 1876. Showing Lincoln and a freed slave, it was paid for by thousands of small contributions from freedmen and women. Washington had an Emancipation parade yesterday. I believe the actual document was signed in the White House on January 1, 1863.

Megarita: Thank God for the heavenly bean. I'm STILL waiting for it to kick in as I write you.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I love Abe on the beach with his laptop!

What do you make of the recently published book and accompanying hoopla that Lincoln was gay, or at least bisexual? I didn't read the book but of course saw many features in the Post and NY Times about this theory. Odd, I think but I'm no Lincoln scholar. What do you think?

9:24 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Reya: Personally I tend to discount it, but then I also tend to believe that history isn't very accurate. It's always gathered from other's perceptions of events, isn't it? The seven blind men and the elephant. Who knows where the truth lies. If he did engage in relations with a man for a time, to quote Tony Soprano, "You get a pass."

9:28 AM  
Blogger The Absurdist said...

Have you seen the movie, The Face of Lincoln? I watched this in my fifth grade class. It was a black and white movie shown on a reel to reel projector. In the movie, a sculptor makes a bust of Lincoln out of clay, meanwhile telling the story of Lincoln's life. The movie really amused me. The sculptor at one point declared, "he had ears" and slapped two hunks of clay onto the sides of Lincoln's head. I told my father about the movie at home that evening, and he remembered watching it when he was in school, over 25 years earlier. He also vividly remembered the "he had ears scene." If you're a Lincoln buff, it's probably worth tracking down a copy.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Absurdist: I do remember this movie. Did any child escape it? I was looking at Lincoln life mask photographs, thinking of using one in the piece I wrote, but the eye sockets, etc. were so funerary that I passed on the idea.

P.S. Lincoln had quite a set of jug handles.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous jamy said...

This is a fantastic piece--I definitely learned a lot. Not the least of which is that Lincoln and my dad have the same shoe size. (Big feet run in my family.)

Thanks for this.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Jamy: Thank you. It's mean a lot knowing I've reached a reading audience out there.

10:53 AM  
Blogger The Lily said...

I am reading Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and it paints Mrs. Lincoln as quite the sympathetic character: not accumstomed to not having slaves/servants, sequestered with the children for long periods, migraines, and because of Mr. Lincoln's drive was unable to attend social events because of societal mores.

Interesting how different authors write history's figures.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Claire: I've added your book to my reading list, and I totally agree. It all depends on who is doing the reporting. Then's there's the gender argument of History viz Herstory.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Smash said...

It's always fascinating to me that you can learn a million facts about someone, and really know very little about how their life really was/is.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Smash: I can't believe I'm quoting from a Joni Mitchell song, but she had a song line in Hejira that went, "We all come and go unknown/Each so deep and superficial/Between the forceps and the stone." And it's true, isn't it? You could know someone a lifetime, but there will always be that something hidden and deep, never revealed.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

Cube,

The post should link to you for information about Lincoln (especially since today is Emancipation day.)

12:04 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

M.A.: They never do things like that. I am hoping that my readers, if they have any interest beyond what they read, will go search out some sites for more specific things that grabbed them. There are several, for example about the Emancipation statue we have here in Washington, D.C. Ford's Theatre has a website with photographs of some of the things in their museum, including Booth's knife and Derringer, as well as the history of the theatre. We live in a miraculous age where all of this information is at our fingertips.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Jenni said...

This is great. I've been to his birthplace, in the house he was born, but never really learned that much about him. Thanks for posting it!

12:11 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Jenni: Thank YOU for coming by to read the blog. I would love to see his home in Springfield as well as his birthplace. His birth mother, Nancy Hanks, was born in West Virginia, so the Lincoln clan got around.

12:13 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

I was going to jump all over that Lilacs/Whitman connection, but JCD beat me to it. This was a marvelous post, Cube. Very rewarding to read. Thank you so much.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

This is a fantastic piece, Cube.

My God, was Sarah Lincoln hot or what?! Rrrowr!!

1:16 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Cuff: I value your opinion, so thank you. I loved reading your poetry.

Phil: For God's sake, LAY OFF THE COMET DUST!! It is rotting your brain.

1:20 PM  
Blogger V said...

This was very interesting. I have been meaning to read the Swanson book because I met him at a party once and he said they are making it into a movie...or he's working on the screenplay, too, maybe. The WaPo had a write-up about him, too.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

JCD and Cuff: Because you both brought up the Whitman poem (re: lilacs), I'm going to go back and add it to the piece as footnote 14. Thanks for reminding me. I took the time to re-read it today in my copy of Leaves of Grass. Of course, in this day and age, Leaves of Grass is online for anyone to seek out. The poem of discussion is Poem 192.

V: I was prepared for his book to be fluff, but it really wasn't bad.

5:37 PM  
Blogger KOB said...

Bare footnotes? You're no loafer, Cube.

6:44 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

I love this post. So interesting. And I knew that the Whitman poem was written for Lincoln, but I didn't know that the lilies had a real historical significance. Beautiful.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

I love history. I'm sure you have seen the Presidential exhibit at the American History Museum. Awesome. As is the First Ladies exhibit.

Years ago, when I was in grade school, I went to Ford's Theatre and the House where he died. Back then, there used to be a pillow, encased in a clear container, with a few drops of Lincoln's blood. It's gone now, but wow, it was a strange sight.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Velvet: When I was an undergrad...don't laugh...I was going to be a Paleontologist. I spent my summers working at the Smithsonian messing around with bones. I also had editor skills, so one summer the then Director of the Institute was putting together this compilation of papers from other museum heads mainly on the subject of the value of museums in the educational process. Anyhoo...they hauled me away from bones to work on this thing, and they moved my butt from the National History Museum, over to the basement of the American History Museum, where they had a publishing section set up, but also in the same area where restoration work was done on the things in the collection of that particular museum. At one point I was working next to one of the carousel horses being refinished, and Dolly Madison's dress had been hauled out for some repairwork. It was...rather mindboggling, in retrospect. The very first blog piece I ever wrote was about working in the Smithsonian.

Anyway...back to Ford's Theatre...this book I just finished...Manhunt...in it he talks about the museum collection and how all of the visitors glom onto wanting to see Booth's knife or the Derringer used to shoot Lincoln, but in a bottom part of a case, near the floor, and almost always ignored, is Booth's compass that he used while he escaped from Washington, hid in the woods in Southern Maryland, and stared at sitting in a boat on a dark night, trying to find his way across the river into Virginia. If anyone goes to the Ford Museum anytime soon...for pete's sake...look at the compass.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

Where is that compass? By where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot, or downstairs? Every time I go there, it seems they are closed with some performance going on. But I did manage to get in there a couple months ago, and poke around. I also got to see the house across the street, but the blood stained pillow was mysteriously gone.

9:16 PM  
Blogger KOB said...

In regard telling point about Lilacs … and how that is forgotten …

Long ago, I took a class on historiography and the professor argued that it was only how nation states conflicted and interacted that history was recorded. It was history. A man alone creates no history, so went the argument, and a crowd not much of one. But nation states, and what goes on between them, constitute most of what we consider history. And of course he meant that all nuance was lost and that is true.

In a different life, I wrote a heavily illustrated history about New Britain, Conn., and combed through old newspapers, 100-150 years or more, because I wanted to get a sense of how life was lived, what was talked about it, what people may have felt. So little gems to me were letters to the editor, odd ball crime reports. But there were also major clashes, protest, hardships on large scale, that kind of thing, none of it remembered.

But if blogs are archived somehow, this rich detail about how people actually lived, ordinary people, may survive and this will be of incredible value if someone, somehow can find a way to comb through it. We’re all creating a collective record of life in this city with our blogs and that is a most important thing.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Velvet: It's in there, and I thought it was around the area where the gun is displayed. Should you return sometime down the road, ask a guide. They would definitely know where it's hidden.

KOB: :::THUD::: Wait. Let me pick myself up off the floor. Wow....Wow again. I so agree, and I had never seen the value of blogs in that light before. I was writing Cuff of Countersignature earlier tonight, and I hope he doesn't mind me ripping off a piece of my email to him, but it said,
---"Isn't it funny? We all knew the Whitman poem, and no one really understood the full meaning of it until now, and all because someone, in their researching Lincoln's life, took note of this odd thing about the various Lincoln funerals and had somehow pulled that lilac quote and fact out of a forgotten historical memory-- something at one time everyone in America would have known. Walt obviously did.

This is what makes blogging so worthwhile. We all learned something new and to me, it makes it so much more enriching to know we've had that collective experience today.---

KOB. I have gained a whole new appreciation of what blogging is about. Thank you for writing that.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Wrethcat said...

Excellent post Cubie!

I once lived right around the corner from Mary Surratt's house, and since I had taken the tour of Ford's Theatre and the house across the street with ther bloody pillow and the bed that was far too short for a man of Lincoln's height, I found it interesting to go inside and tour.

You get a sense of how all out in Clinton, Maryland it was privately held farmland and woods, and how far Booth had to ride to get where he was going with the authorities on his heels.

My brother actually graduated from Surrattsville High School (lovingly referred to as "Ratsville")

They executed the whole family for harbouring Booth. I can't get that horrible shade of red clay color that the house is done in out of my head.

>^, ,^<

9:32 PM  
Anonymous jcd said...

Cube, I'm glad to have made a small contribution. Let me add a bit of trivia. I first heard the poem not in its original setting, but through its use as the text of Hindemith's Requiem . His work, with the same title as the Whitman poem (and the subtitle "A Requiem for Those We Love") was written in honor of FDR--who died at about the same time of year as Lincoln.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

JCD: More wow. It just keeps getting better. I was saying to a friend tonight, "Do you think I'm done with Lincoln for a while," and they threw me this quizzical look (knowing me), as if to say "Uh...." The funny thing is, I'm not one of those people who has read everything about the Civil War, or everything about Lincoln. I just have these paths that pop up, and I follow them to my fancy. Mr. Jinxy of the Son of Clown Ops blog, for example, has me going off on a path in search of Carthage, when he and I were exchanging information during his trip to Tangiers. I certainly do not judge myself an expert on any of this. Next week I could be reading about Godknowswhat.

You've once more added another fascinating tidbit of history to this piece of the puzzle, and I thank you for that. It means a great deal to me that I have such interesting readers that give me feedback and the sharing of their own knowledge.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Wrethy: Actually, only Mom Mary was hanged. They did round up the kids, but let them go, over time. Her daughter Ann stayed with her until the last moments. What amuses me, the Surratt House here in D.C.--the boarding house where Booth conspired...has a Chinese restaurant in it now called "Wok N' Roll." Swear to God. Truth is strange, yes?

11:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

As a genealogist, I think a lot about what future generations will cull through, looking for clues to their past. My job involves collecting and processing the deomographic data that will be closely guarded and released only after 72 years. I want to make sure that it will support the research that people will inevitably do. But I totally agree with all of the comments that have been going around today about personal Blogs as one of the richest sources of knowledge about each of us who writes. This is the sort of find that will tell future generations just who we were -- what we worried about, what pissed us off, what amused us, how we dealt with adversity. This is the sort of knowledge that can never be conveyed by SEX-AGE-RELATIONSHIP-HISPANIC ORIGIN-RACE.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous washingtoncube said...

Barbara: This entire debate has made me see blogs in a new light.

6:11 PM  
Blogger wunelle said...

We had a strange little convergence of photo and subject, anyway! I've not read your post (on one of my favorite subjects) but will do so shortly.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Wunelle: There's been an interesting debate going on over at this blog today. You might want to check it out:

http://goldpoppy.blogspot.com/

8:37 PM  
Blogger wunelle said...

There is a famous requiem mass by Paul Hindemith based on Whitman's "When Lilacs..."

This is a lovely post, and most informative. Bravo.

I'll head over to the site you suggest!

8:58 PM  
Blogger DC Cookie said...

I was taking my 10 and 8-year old cousins for a tour of the monuments a few weekends ago. When we approached the Lincoln Memorial, the 8-year old shouted "Lincoln was my favourite President." I asked her why. She didn't know. He just...was.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Sue aka DRFS said...

People tend to believe that History is set in stone...writ with a big "H" as it were. In reality, history changes as the generations change. I wonder how Lincoln will be viewed in 2020 or 2040. As for blogs being a great archive of the "common man"...I agree...but I'd be interested to hear how archivists are prepared to deal with such things. They have been debating this for awhile as now a President's "papers" include many e-mail exchanges. How are these stored? What happens when the technology they are stored on is out-dated? Not to mention...can you trust these archieves of human life? Who is embellishing their life, etc, etc. There is quite a bit of discussion going on about these sorts of thing. As for your post...you are always eloquent and writing about things that are fascinating on so many levels.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

This is a great post. I just read Manhunt, as well, and posted my review. A historian I know has said that American Brutus is the best historical book he's ever read. He also really recommended With Malice Toward None which I have not read yet.

I've always had a soft spot for Honest Abe and would like to keep learning more about him. I think it's more than a little bit because we share the same birthday! :-)

5:13 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

Darn. It appears my link is not working:

http://sterfanie.blogspot.com/2006/04/book-review-manhunt.html

5:14 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

Okay, light bulb. So Lincoln's mother was Nancy Hanks? Is that how we have the Nancy Hanks Center at the Old Post Office?

5:18 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

Okay, comment 4, as I'm reading the others... I believe the really unusual thing about Booth's compass was that he had it calibrated so that the pointer always pointed SOUTH, not North like usual. Definitely worth a trip to Ford's to see that!

5:25 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Stef: Laughing at yer overflow here. Great subject, huh? I actually was geeky enough to keep a list last year of everything I read. 176 books. Hands down, the best thing I read was American Brutus, and the next best book was Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Corrine said...

Nice article. If anyone is interested, Sacred History magazine did a nice spread on the religion of Abraham Lincoln in the March/April issue. There is a short side article about his funeral as well. (OK, I wrote it, I am just trying to plug the magazine), but the main article was written by the boy (who is now an older man and a history professor) who found the only surviving picture of Abe, laying in state in New York City, in the 1950s. There is also a previously unpublished picture of Mary Todd from a private collection.

I enjoyed the blog tonight, thanks!!

11:15 PM  
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10:44 AM  

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